Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 767: Sara Israel

cross-posted to Samuel French's  Blog
Sara Israel

Hometown:  Delmar, NY

Current Town:  Los Angeles, CA

Q:  Tell me about your OOB play.

A:  I have a series of six related short plays called “The Sense Plays.” My OOB play, “Tastes Like Teen Spirit!”, is one of them. The plays are designed to fit together as one production using eight actors, but also written to be pulled apart and produced independently of one another. Beyond each of them tackling a sense, my goal was for each to take on a complicated but universally felt aspect of what challenges us as we walk through the world. In “Tastes Like Teen Spirit!” a 19 year-old female intern is punched in the mouth by an older, female bigwig at a marketing consulting firm, because the Powers That Be want to know what the teenager’s blood tastes like to her. Why? Because teenage girls “matter” now in the world of consumerism in a way that has far exceeded their “worth” in times past. Yay? It’s a complicated and funny business to suddenly matter.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I have a new play and new screenplay fairly far along in the hopper. I also direct things that I myself do not write—and I especially love helping talented playwrights shepherd new work.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  When I was in second grade, our elementary school had a Latin American Fair. The fifth graders organized the game booths. One “game” was to guess the population of Latin America. I was pressured by cool fifth graders to “play,” and nervously and arbitrarily wrote down a number. They looked at me strangely after I did. I felt immediate shame for somehow not writing down a cool enough number. But no. Instead, it turns out I was less than 100 people off the official census population of Latin America—even though to this day I wouldn’t be able to tell you what geographically qualifies as that region per the World Census. I won a dime-store goldfish. My parents were pissed that the school would give a 7 year-old a goldfish without getting parental permission. I named her (him?) Glitter, and she (he?) lived more than two years just to spite them.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  Greater access to a greater range of theater experiences for everyone on stage, behind stage, and in the audience, in every which way that “access” entails. (That’s not asking too much, is it?)

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Oh, I could give such a long list, but instead I’ll focus on Wendy Wasserstein, because her play “Isn’t It Romantic?,” which I read in a summer playwriting class between 9th and 10th grade, was freakin’ revelatory for me at the time. My dad, who is awesome, jumped on board with my fandom. At the end of that same summer, he bought me an anthology of her work. For me, Wasserstein is a theatrical hero because she intuitively understood some universal truths about the lives of women, then dared to take those truths and create real and specific female characters to journey through them—stories and characters and conflicts and joys and heartaches and humor that moved through and reflected the decades of her own life as a woman, as a writer, and as a creature of the theater. When she passed away—well, I’ve never been sadder at the death of someone I never personally knew. And thinking about it now, I still feel the loss of what she won’t write—what truths she won’t be able to uniquely tell—about women in their 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Seek out, surround yourself with, and always value talented, thoughtful, collaborative, and supportive people, not just in the theater world but also in life. (The latter can be just as important to your writing.)

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  www.SaraIsrael.com. Also, I’ve said this before on other platforms but I’ll keep saying it, I “plug” encouraging everyone experiencing art—be it theater or otherwise—outside our individual box. Whether you’re a creator or an audience member, there are so many ways we can inspire ourselves that we just could never be able to anticipate.

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